Brammo's possible Talent move accelerates

Ashland is facing the loss of one of its most celebrated symbols of local entrepreneurship after Brammo Inc. announced last week it was moving its headquarters from its hometown of 10 years to the Walmart building in Talent.

Ashland officials and business people say most of the economic benefits the city has enjoyed while hosting Brammo won't disappear if the company follows through with a move three miles down the road.

The electric motorcycle maker announced plans July 13 to purchase the 90,000-square-foot Walmart building after the store closes and a new Walmart Supercenter opens in south Medford at the end of August.

"We have to do this," Brammo founder and Chief Executive Officer Craig Bramscher said, recalling his thought to himself after the Walmart building came open. When "counting all the beans," moving to Talent was cheaper than constructing two new warehouses for research and manufacturing in Ashland, Bramscher said.

"Unfortunately, it just came down to the fact that a 100,000-square-foot building was a better fit," he said. "It wasn't like we were looking to leave Ashland "… and it's not goodbye to Ashland by any means."

Bramscher and several of Brammo's 65 employees who work in an 18,218-square-foot building on Clover Lane live in Ashland, he said.

Brammo's employee base is expected to swell with the planned expansion to about 130 jobs over the next two years, Bramscher said. About 20 percent of that additional workforce will be hired locally, he said.

The Ashland Planning Commission in January unanimously approved the company's plan to build a pair of two-story buildings and a private dirt test track for its electric motorcycles on property Brammo owns near the end of Jefferson Avenue. Those buildings were approved to cover 14,857 and 18,805 square feet. But the project is on hold and now likely will die, with two of the three parcels being sold, if everything continues smoothly with Walmart and the city of Talent.

The city will have to rezone part of the Talent site and secure a conditional-use permit to allow assembly work there, but all three stakeholders have expressed support for the potential move. The building sits in two different zones, one of which needs to be changed to allow the preliminary permit.

Talent City Planner Mark Knox said once an application is received, the zoning and the CUP process would take four to five months. A meeting with neighbors would need to be held, then the issues would go the Planning Commission and City Council for approval.

Bramscher said the firm would move as quickly as possible to occupy the building, with January 2013 being the earliest date. Given its size, the firm may occupy only half the building initially.

"It's still in the valley, which I think is the most important part," Bramscher said.

Most of the company's new staff will be transferred from outside the community to further Brammo's off-road electric vehicle development, which has become a main emphasis of the company since Minnesota-based off-road and powersports vehicle maker Polaris Industries acquired $28 million worth of Brammo stock in October.

At its new Talent headquarters, Brammo plans to house research, design, warehousing, administrative offices and the manufacturing of prototypes, as well as the development of battery, drive train and fast-charging capabilities.

Ashland Community Development Department Director Bill Molnar said Brammo's high-caliber jobs in a neighboring town likely will have direct benefits for Ashland.

"Ashland is an attractive town; we have a great public school system. And I think it's only a matter of time before something goes in there," he said, referring to where Brammo planned to develop in Ashland.

Molnar said a resolution is being prepared for the Ashland City Council to decide on whether to establish an enterprise zone overlay on the properties, which grants startup and developing businesses tax breaks and other incentives for three to five years. There is support for the initiative within the city, he said.

Molnar said Brammo's potential move actually fits into the city's economic development plan.

"For the most part, we don't have room for really expansive manufacturing land use," he said. "Larger-scale manufacturers usually go elsewhere. "… With the Walmart building, it probably provided an opportunity for Brammo to do everything under one roof.

"It's better than having them move out of Southern Oregon "… part of the overall plan was keeping them here."

Marc Zolton, a spokesman for Business Oregon, said the state has aided Brammo's development with about $1 million in grants and loans since the business was founded in 2002.

Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc. also has stepped in and provided assistance to the electric motorcycle manufacturer, but hefty incentives from areas outside Southern Oregon could be available for a company such as Brammo.

Earlier this month, the California Energy Commission awarded Santa Cruz-based Zero Motorcycle more than $1.8 million through its Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program to expand its manufacturing capability in the Golden State.

Bramscher said he moved here to raise his four children and has little desire to go elsewhere. Still, seven states are actively pursuing Brammo, hoping to convince Bramscher they are more supportive of his efforts than the government entities with which he presently deals.

Ashland City Councilman and former Medford police Lt. Greg Lemhouse, who was hired by Brammo in March to spearhead global fleet development, said most of Brammo's major players, including himself, live in Ashland.

"There is no reason why a person here in Ashland can't work in Talent," said Lemhouse, who added he wasn't involved in any of the discussions surrounding the potential deal between Walmart and Brammo.

"I think that's appropriate to be out of that discussion in the first place," Lemhouse said.

Brammo's plan to expand in Ashland began in 2006, stalled for two years, then picked up momentum in 2008 when the city secured an almost $1 million grant to extend Jefferson Avenue to the undeveloped parcels. Brammo pushed the city for an enterprise zone overlay on the land, but city officials balked because it gave Jackson County more control over development there. The project was halted by a lack of financing and the recession in 2009.

Ashland Mayor John Stromberg said he is supportive of an enterprise zone overlay around Jefferson Avenue and other city parcels to attract small-scale manufacturers and other businesses to Ashland, and to encourage those here to stay close to home as they expand.

"We all take pleasure in his (Bramscher's) success and the fact that he is moving to that Walmart building and creating a lot of news jobs in the Rogue Valley that will be aptly close to Ashland," Stromberg said. "New construction is quite a bit more expensive "… finding an existing building, that was such a good deal for them.

"I think this is a big positive," Stromberg said.

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email

Share This Story